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Wa’kerakats:te - Louise McDonald

The Indigenous people of this land, Turtle Island, may have surprised Canada this time. 

The strength and conviction of their swift movements across this land reminds us to maintain our natural born rights as the traditional people, to protect and preserve our waters and lands, this has risen to a mind of astonishment for all observers. That somehow small groups of elders and activist-warriors, protectors, with many women in leadership, have stopped the colonial arm of Canada in its tracks, paralyzing much of the train movement and a good piece of the national economy, has many heads spinning.

But those of us that have been raised in the consciousness of our ancestors, and who have throughout our lives and before our own lives connected and intertwined with the teachings of the many kinship allies among other Native traditional peoples have known that we all share important spiritual bases and responsibilities. We share important approaches to how we should live our Mother, the Mother Earth. The Indigenous people of this land may have surprised Canada; they did not surprise me.

I write as Iakoiane, Clan Mother of the Bear Clan, under the title holder Tehana’karíne, of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation at Akwesasne. I write here to express my deep concern, at this time, and I write as well to all the Native women of Turtle Island, and to all the women and kind-hearted men of Canada. I address myself, too, to our brave warriors, men and women, who put their bodies in the front lines to defend and protect the sacred and our people. The Kanien’kehá:ka are well versed in the fight(s) against big colonial government and big foreign industry. We fought in opposition of the construction of the International Seaway and the big corporations of General Motors and Alcoa/Reynolds Aluminum Plants, which toxified the grounds and waters around us for the same reasons that the Wet’suwet’en are struggling now.

Always, when united, we win the important battles, but when not united, lost enough big campaigns that today our community is left with polluted rivers, contaminated land and our people, including our children, are victims of way too many deadly cancers.

The current struggle of the Wet’suwet’en people, as led by their traditional and hereditary authorities has touched the heart of many of our peoples. Many among the seven Mohawk territories, and from many other nations, have organized in support, leading blockades and other campaigns. It has been costly for Canada, as even the New York Times reports “concerns over fuel shortages and layoffs.” In support for the Wet’suwet’en effort to stop a natural gas pipeline that threatens the health of much of their main river and natural habitat, Mohawks at Tyendinaga, Kahnawake and other places have shown disapproval by restricting the flow of the Ontario Canadian National Railways. For nearly two weeks, many other protectors have also stopped traffic, rail lines, particularly in Toronto and Winnipeg, and blocked a number of ports.

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Disruptions are not crippling yet, but a drop in supplies of propane was felt and materials in chemical industry also seem to be affected. For sure, enough pain and disruption so that the Dominion of Canada is paying attention. Negotiations have been slow to engage. With pre-dawn police and military raids whom are threatening and arresting the original elders and young protectors, and building a big military presence, including snipers ready to shoot to kill, expected after 300 years of oppression and assimilation tactics, the Indigenous are not ready for too much talk. But talk and negotiation must happen. And as that happens, we know we are negotiating from a good position of strength. The Wet’suwet’en have called for the RCMP and military to immediate pull out from the Wet’suwet’en territory and for Coastal GasLink, the pipeline company, to dismantle and seek other options for routing the pipeline. They are requesting also that the Crown formalize relations with the Wet’suwet’en nation’s traditional leadership. We should be ready to help them achieve their positions.

In our tradition, it is the responsibility of the clan mothers to convene the clans and councils and to instruct the Roiane’s as to the positions and objectives they will carry on behalf of the people. It is a good way and can give us the best results. It is a suggestion to all our strong leaders, to gather the best minds we can find, so that we put the good mind at work in these negotiations, and move forward with utmost diplomacy and the firmest possible conviction to achieve the objectives desired by the Wet’suwet’en elders. 

This is truly a task for the wisest of our elder defenders, protectors, women, men and all people of strong character and the deepest wisdom in the way they express our positions and represent us. We understand that some hold anger and may wish to insult, we respectively encourage the importance of this space to be of good minds. We understand the emotion of anger but we also know that for negotiations to achieve a positive success, a good amount of human-to-human trust needs to evolve. We are a people of peace, of the Kaienarakowa Great Law of Peace. We know that our human “good mind” is foundational for the power and reason, we have a responsibility, we have knowledge, and we have a foundation to maintain peace during our walk in this world.

As I write, over the next few days, a delegation of Wet’suwe’en traditional authorities are travelling east to visit among Mohawk communities. I am certain we will welcome them with our proper ceremonies and that our traditional and ancestral protocols will guide our mutual recognition. We Native people still respect and support each other in the quest to protect and care for the land. This is what helps us act powerfully across Canada. We are not easily stopped because ours is a decentralized movement, a long-standing Native strategic reality and objective. This was the orientation of our best thinkers in the past half-century. They said: keep it fluid; keep it cultural; keep it spiritual; let nothing deter you; adopt the tradition of the defender-warrior; be above it all.

It was no surprise to me that finally and inevitably our young people would jump to defend the ancient principles and our old people, the hereditary chiefs and authorities of our indigenous nations, would appreciate them and orient them. As a clan mother, I call into being the ancestral forces to stand in solidary with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, in their rightful stand against the Dominion of Canada to vacate the Wet’suwet’en territory and to cease and desist from the construction of a pipeline that is deadly dangerous to all people. The law of the land is clear. Through the living legacy of Tsiokonsáseh, the Mother of Nations, and our Haudenosaunee Peacemaker, the women are vested the authority of holding and giving of all names, including the chiefs’ titles, and the Clan Mothers and mothers of our nations hold the ownership title to all of our ancestral lands.

We do this on behalf of all generations yet to be born.

Wa’kerakats:te - Louise McDonald - is a condoled Clan Mother of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation Bear Clan. Wa’kerakats:te has been honored as Legacy Leader, by the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, and is the recipient of the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the State University of New York.